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Brooks pays county for travel expense

 

Nathan Gregory

 

A day after Lowndes County received a Mississippi attorney general opinion stating a supervisor owing money to the county could not receive his salary until he paid up, Leroy Brooks cut the county a check. For $199. 

 

Brooks sent the payment to county administrator Ralph Billingsley today. He attached to it a note saying the payment is not an acknowledgement of travel expense violations. He also said the attorney's general opinion was not based on all the facts in play and he would address the matter with the AG office. 

 

"It's not over," Brooks said after bringing a copy of the letter to The Dispatch this morning. 

 

County board president Harry Sanders requested the AG office look into the issue in August. The board received an AG opinion this week.  

 

Sanders' request was in response to a July 31 board finding that Brooks spent $199 for lodging and meals a day prior to a June conference in Biloxi that Brooks attended. Brooks arrived in Biloxi on June 16. A reception was held June 17 and the conference was June 18-20. Brooks left the conference on June 18. 

 

Brooks was reimbursed $199 for the expenses he incurred on June 16. County Administrator Ralph Billingsley said the reimbursement was his fault because he did not see the discrepancy in dates on Brooks' travel authorization form before signing off on it. By a 3-0 vote, with Brooks and supervisor Jeff Smith abstaining, the board requested Brooks pay the county back for what he received on June 16. Brooks refused.  

 

Today in his letter to Billingsley, Brooks asked him to provide a copy of the travel authorization form. 

 

"I am really too busy for the continuous waste of time with Harry Sanders and his 'plantation boss mentality,'" Brooks also noted in his letter. 

 

Sanders asked the attorney general's office if the board could deduct the amount from Brooks' pay or mileage reimbursement. Citing Miss. Section 7-7-43, Assistant Attorney General Avery Mounger Lee, who looked into the matter, found the county could submit Brooks' debt to its financial officer for collection. 

 

The Attorney General's office has previous opinions regarding the withholding of public employees' salaries and does not require supervisors to pursue legal action, Lee said.  

 

Brooks said Wednesday that Sanders "did not present all the facts as they are" when he submitted the request for opinion. Brooks said he would forward a letter to the Attorney General's office today with additional facts for consideration. 

 

"If the board can arbitrarily after they've approved something say, 'Uh oh, we shouldn't have done it,' then everybody's in trouble," Brooks said. "I followed the procedure, which was to make the request to Ralph, and now he's saying (he) overlooked it. That's not my fault."  

 

Brooks added that supervisors in favor of requesting he pay back the $199 were setting an "awkward" precedent. 

 

"There is no document anywhere that defines what county business is. I don't want to prolong this because it's a bunch of bull---t, but I'm going to exhaust the avenues afforded to me because it was an arbitrary decision," he said. "The board authorized the expenditure, so it wasn't illegal." 

 

Brooks said anyone requesting an Attorney General opinion can solicit the response they want based on what they submit as evidence. He said the AG's response to his letter will dictate his next step, which could involve consulting legal counsel.

 

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.

 

 

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